Trip Report: Poland 2018

NATO Tiger Meet newcomers 6 Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego of the Polish Air Force at Poznań-Krzesiny airbase hosted the annual tactics exercise for the very first time. This was also the first time that South West Aviation Photographers would be attending the traditional spotter’s day.

With direct Ryanair flights from Bristol to Poznan, transport to and from the area was one of the simplest yet. We spent the first day visiting a number of local General Aviation airfields and of note was Poznan-Kobylnica which not only did it have a MiG 21 as a gate guard, it also boasted five Antonov An-2s.

While our main reason for visiting Poland was the NATO Tiger Meet, there were a few museum we wanted to visit during our time there with the first being the Lubuskie Muzeum Wojskowe. This is a fantastic little museum with the majority of the aircraft positioned in the gardens of the house the museum was housed in. Notable aircraft present were a single seat PZL-Mielec Iskra, believed to be the only one in existence and an Ilyushin IL-28. In a different way of operating to museums here in the UK there was a standard entrance fee to get into the grounds and then an additional fee with a separate ticket issued to enter an aircraft hangar which contained a Yakovlev Yak-12A, PZL-Mielec TS-8 Bies and Yakovlev Yak-18. The museum entrance fee was very reasonable, with the standard entrance fee being the equivalent of roughly £2.00 and an additional 75p got access to the hangar. As well as aircraft the museum houses a collection of heavy weapons and tracked vehicles.

With the Poland – Germany boarder not too far away we carried on after the Lubuskie museum to the Flugplatzmuseum at Cottbus. This museum is a homage to the East German Air Force with many Soviet era aircraft including multiple MiG and Mil aircraft. Gary had done some research as we always do with any international trip and discovered that the museum at had an extensive reserve collection. After negotiations via email before we left the UK we managed to arrange access to the collection which contained an Antonov An-2T, Mil Mi-1 MU and Poeschel P.300 Equator amongst many other items.

On the way back we popped into Zielona Gora-Babimost, seeing yet more An-2s including a rather attractive purple example which was flying locally in the crop spraying role, and finally some wrecks and relics in Powodowo.

Unlike previous NATO Tiger Meets spotter days the 2018 edition wasn’t directly organised by either the host nation or the NATO Tiger Association, but instead by a third party private event management company. This would be glaringly obvious throughout the day. Even before the day there were many ticketing issues, with some spotters travelling to Poland without confirmation that their application had been successful. Parking was off site at a local retail complex and registration was set to open at 0700hrs and, as expected with any aviation event, queues started to form hours before the published time. We arrived just before 0600hrs and there were a couple of hundred in front of us. Opening time came and went with no sign of the registration portacabin opening. Eventually at 0730hrs a Polish Air Force truck arrived and the queue started to move shortly after. However, as we were to find out, the Polish Airmen weren’t aware that each lanyard and attached accreditation was personalised with the attendee’s name and were giving the accreditations out on a first come first served basis. Eventually this was rectified with all of the group, apart from Gary, receiving their correct accreditation.

After a 20 minute bus journey in Poznan rush hour we finally got onto the base and into the spotter’s enclosure, just in time for the first of two waves of departures from the fixed wing fast jets. As you would expect, the rotary assets operated off of a different pan and sadly de-conflicted their arrivals and departures by operating off of the disused cross runway. The first wave departed just after 1000hrs and included examples of each air arm and each type participating, apart from the ageing Saab 105s of the Austrian Air Force. Once the first wave had departed a number of transport aircraft from participating nations arrived, many of which brought visiting dignitaries in for the VIP day which was being held at the same time as the spotter’s day. Shortly afterwards the first wave of aircraft started to return and once all the aircraft were on the deck it was time for lunch. One thing the private events company did get right was the wide variety of food outlets available along with plenty of Portaloos. A look around the various merchandise stalls from the Tiger squadrons was also on the cards as one thing Tiger Meet spotter’s days are known for is the patches, with each squadron producing a patch for the meet each year. The Royal Navy’s 814 NAS patch was sold out within seconds so high was the demand. The afternoon saw the second wave depart, which was of a similar makeup to the morning although minus the rotary assets but including the Austrian contingent. Communication wasn’t high on the agenda for the Polish events company with 99% of the spotters, including ourselves deciding to leave once the second wave had landed on, not knowing that the helicopter element were to make a formation photo flight straight down the active runway and something we hadn’t seen much of all day was rotary action.

Although we were shooting into the sun photographic opportunities still arose. The enclosure itself was located near the piano keys on the north side of Runway 29. With the event organisers knowing how many customers they had, this is an advance ticket only event after all, they could have done with making the enclosure slightly larger with most of the line being 2-3 deep by the time the first wave returned. However, the crowd did thin quite considerably a lot sooner than was expected with a lot of people not happy with the location and set up and choose to leave. Unfortunately for them, of the fleet of busses that brought us in only one bus was providing an hourly service to take guests off the base. As you can imagine, the queue to leave grew to almost the length of the enclosure and with tempers fraying between spotters and the private security company, the Polish Military Police were called. They managed to calm the situation down and eventually a Polish Air Force officer intervened and commandeered some Polish Military coaches to ferry the waiting guests back to the car park. After queuing for about an hour to get off base, and once again hitting Poznan rush hour, we elected to visit a few of the many wrecks and relics located in Poznan including the Muzeum Wyzwolenia Miasta Poznania Na Cytadeli. While it was closed by the time we arrived, all aircraft could be seen and a number of them were photographed, including yet another An-2.

Poznan airshow was held at the international airport the other side of town to the Air Force base the weekend after the Tiger Meet. With the air show being run by the same events management company as the Tiger Meet, event expectations weren’t that high. However, apart from shooting into the sun a good day was had by all. Parking was off base with a shuttle bus taking us the majority of the way, then followed a walk through the abandoned soviet military side of the airfield. Displays varied from fast jets through to world war one replicas. The Saturday morning saw a large contingent of the fast jets from the NATO Tiger Meet arrive into the circuit in mixed formations for participation in the static display, which was laid out in a similar fashion to a UK show. The show started with a parachute drop and ended with the stars of the show such as the Spitfire and XtremeAir XA-41 being kept until the final hour to keep the paying crowd engaged. Breaks in the flying display to allow civil scheduled passenger traffic in and out of the airport also gave ample opportunity to wander the static display and the various stalls and to grab food. Without the participation of a number of the NATO Tiger Meet aircraft, both in the static and flying displays, it’s fair to say you wouldn’t want to travel to the Poznan Airshow from the UK but it was great to see the Polish twist to putting on an air show. Our final day saw us leaving Poznan early in the morning just before the air show began.

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at The NATO Tiger Association for making this article possible.

Report by Matt Sudol and Gary Morris

© South West Aviation Photographers 2018